Archive for Reuse

Low Cost Home Heating Ideas

We’re snowed in today, at least until we can get the driveway plowed and get the vehicles out.   We had a beautiful, dangerous blizzard yesterday.  Today and tomorrow we are under a wind-chill warning.  It’s good to be inside and I am grateful to have electricity and an internet connection.  (And a working boiler.)

Woman wrapped in blanket and drinking coffee for home heatingWhile doing a bit of research, I came across several plans for inexpensive or low cost home heating.  I haven’t tried any of these, but I’m considering it.  You’ll have to make your own judgements about the safety and effectiveness of these.  If anyone has tried these or something similar, it would be wonderful if you would share your experience in the comments.

1)  Build a Solar Air Heating Collector from Soda-Pop Cans:

Greg’s Pop-Can Solar Space Heating Collector

This is not only inexpensive – you use empty soda cans as well as old double paned windows and other found materials – but it looks much nicer than would be expected.  It is somewhat labor intensive as you will need to drill or cut out the ends of each and every pop can.

2)  Mother Earth News – Solar Heat Grabber

DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber

This one claims to cost $32.18 to build, but keep in mind that the article is older so prices are likely higher now.  The unit fits next to a window and is not exactly attractive.  The article has very good information about how to place the unit and what angles and placements are most effective.

3)  Tea Light and Flowerpot Room Heater

No, this is not a joke.  The author claims that this heater will heat a room for about $.15 a day.

[04-01-18 Editor note – this video seems to be changed or removed from You Tube – I removed the broken link!] You Tube Video – How to Heat Your Room for 15 Cents a Day

This one seems like it could be a bit dangerous if you have small children, pets, or if you are a bit clumsy.  It uses small candle flames to create a convection heater.

4)  Electric Heater with a Battery and Ceramic Plate

This one takes some electric wiring knowledge, but that fact that it uses a 1.5v dry cell battery fascinated me.  If you could find a rechargeable battery, this could be a good emergency or portable source of heat.   I don’t know how safe it may be – best to check with the electrician in the family.

How to Build an Electric Heater

5)  Solar Heat Panel

Another Mother Earth News article about building a solar panel – this one was designed to add heat to a garage or work shop.

Build a Simple Solar Heater

The designer of this unit is an engineer that wanted to heat his outdoor workshop.

There you are.  5 Ideas for creating low cost home heating from the sun, a battery, or a candle.  If you try any of them, please let us know how it worked and how much it cost.

I have one more idea for staying warm when then temperature outside is -15 degrees F.  Wear thermal sock liners.   They are worn underneath your regular socks.

I bought a pair from to give to my son this Christmas, but when they arrived, they were sparkly silver, thin, and knee-high. Seeing no way he would wear them, I kept them for myself.  Wow!  They are so effective that I am completely warm and comfortable which is a big change for me.   Don’t tell my son … he may want them after all!


photo courtesy of and marin





Clothing and Furniture Donations on Your Tax Return

[Editor’s note – this article was updated on 02-14-16 to reflect current tax years and links]

One common and easy way to help a charity is to donate your good used clothing, furniture, and household goods.

Family Donating StuffBesides a clean house with more usable space, you may also receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of your donations.   A tax deduction on your income tax return can mean more money for you to pay bills, enjoy, invest, or to donate to charity.

To claim a deduction on your 2015 Federal tax return for a donation, you will use the Schedule A (Itemized Deductions).  Yes, this means that you must be able to itemize deductions in order to claim a Federal deduction for a donation in 2015.

One common question with donated clothing, furniture and household goods is how to figure the IRS donation values.

The short answer is that you will be able to deduct the lower of the fair market value or your cost basis of the donated property.

Figuring your cost basis is simple.  Your cost basis is how much you paid for the item.  You may also add in any additional costs to improve or prolong the life of the item.  For example, you may have paid $55.00 for a pair of shoes.  $55.00 would be your cost basis.

As another example of cost basis with extra costs, you may have paid  $50.00 for a dresser at a garage sale, and then another $25.00 to buy new handles, glue, and paint to improve it.  Your cost basis in the dresser would be $75.00.

Note, though, that the amount you can deduct is the lower of the cost basis or the fair market value. For most taxpayers, fair market value is what they will use on their tax return to value their donations.

So how do you figure the fair market value of donations?  Good question and the simple answer is:  fair market value is the amount that you could sell the item for.   Usually this will be the thrift shop or garage sale price.

Here are some resources to help you value your donated goods:

Goodwill Industries – Donation Value Guide  This Goodwill page has a link to a downloadable booklet which gives guideline values for clothing, household goods, and furniture. The link is toward the bottom, under the section Taxes and Your Donations. For example, according to the Goodwill guide, a woman’s shirt in good condition would have a fair market value of $2.00 – $12.00.

The Salvation Army also has a guide – Valuation Guide for Salvation Army Donations  In their guide, the Salvation Army values a woman’s blouse between $2.50 and $12.00, similar to the Goodwill values.

If you frequently shop at garage sales or thrift shops, then you likely already know what prices are reasonable for valuing your clothing and other items.

Other things to keep in mind for tax return purposes when donating clothing, or household goods:

The condition of the items must be at least “good” condition before the IRS will allow a deduction.

The donation must be made to a qualified charity.  Giving furniture to a deserving family is a worthy action, but it will not be tax deductible because the family is not a qualified charity.  Use IRS Search for Charities – (previously Publication 78) to see if your charity is qualified.

Keep a detailed list of your donated items, or snap multiple photos for your records.  Also keep notes on the date of the donation, the address and name of the charity that you donated to.

If your donation value will be $250.00 or more, be sure to get a signed, dated receipt from the charity.

If all of your noncash donations for the year total $500.00 or more, you will need to report the details on Form 8283.   The Instructions for Form 8283 are also a good resource of information on donations of noncash items.

IRS Publication 561 has good information – Determining the Value of Donated Property

Simple Life Corp has a more detailed article on taxes and giving items to charity – Is Your Donation A Tax Deductible Donation?

How much will a donation of household items affect your Federal taxes?

Let’s use the women’s blouses as an example.  Say you do a major clean-out of your closet and end up donating a variety of 20 women’s blouses in good to excellent condition to Goodwill Industries.  Using Goodwill’s valuation chart, you value these at $8.00 each.  This gives you a deduction of $160.00.  If you can itemize and you are in a 15% tax bracket, you will reduce your taxes by $24.00.  Not bad for an hour or two of cleaning out your closet.

Even better, you’ve helped out a charity, you now have a simpler, less crowded closet, and you got a few extra dollars to donate, spend, or invest. Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!




[11-30-13 … the link to the Salvation Army valuation guide was updated.  Also note that Publication 78 is no longer published by the IRS, but the link allows you to search for qualified charities.]

This article is for guidelines only and not to be considered specific tax advice. Consult your tax professional for specific advice on deducting donated items on your tax return.


Got Used Coffee Grounds? Use them!

We make a pot of coffee everyday which means that we have a filter full of used coffee grounds everyday.  Since we have a septic tank and we don’t want the grounds to build up a sludge inside the tank, we don’t rinse these down the drain.  That leaves me curious and looking for uses other than simply tossing them in the garbage can.  Over the years, I’ve found a long list of really excellent uses for these grounds.

Occasionally we will make a second pot of coffee.  Since the grounds are already in the filter, I put about 1/2 the usual amount of new grounds right on top of the freshly used ones.  It still makes a very good cup of coffee, although not as excellent as that first, smooth, deeply flavored first cup of the morning. Could just be that I’m not as groggy and my taste buds are fully awake by the time we start on the second pot of coffee, though.

It’s nice that the second pot of coffee costs half the price of the first pot. That is a savings of $.50 to $.75, depending on how strong we want the coffee. *   If we did this everyday, and still enjoyed the second pot of coffee, the savings would add up nicely.

Beyond that, we have many other excellent uses for the grounds.  The one I use most often is to sprinkle them around the rhododendron bush, the blueberry bushes as a mild acid-enriched fertilizer and as a general nitrogen-enhancing additive for the rest of the garden.

Probably the next best use is as an exfolliator and cellulite reducing beauty treatment.  Messy, messy, messy, but possibly very nice results.  Do an allergy test first if you are going to try this.

I’ve posted an article on The Fat Dollar site,  26 Uses for Used Coffee Grounds … -including using them for repairing scratches in wood, as a scrubbing agent when cleaning, making a treasure stone for the kids, a pesticide, natural deodorizer, a hair rinse … and more!

It feels great to keep something out of your septic tank or landfills and at the same time make a money-saving very effective use for it.  That’s exactly what you can do when you have a second use for your used coffee grounds and that ‘s The Fat Dollar way!

Don’t forget to have fun finding new uses for the grounds.  If you have another use for them, share it with us in the comments below.  Thanks!



Article references:  Uses for Used Coffee Grounds – The Fat Dollar

Brewing Tips from Polly’s Gourmet Coffee


* Pricing – Copper Moon World Coffee Hawaiian Hazelnut from Sam’s Club – 2.5 lb for $14.98 – we use 1.75 to 3.0 oz per pot of coffee.  Not including the water, electricity or wear on the coffee maker, a pot of coffee will cost between $.78 to $1.41, depending on how strong we want the coffee.

According to, the SCAA recommends 3.75 ounces of coffee (about 10-11 tablespoons) for each 64 oz pot of coffee.



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Save Money on Wrapping Paper

One part of Christmas gift giving that has always bothered me is the wrapping paper.  I do love the colorful paper and the cheerful ribbons.  Yet I have a bit of heartache when I see that lovely paper get ripped into messy pieces, wadded up and thrown away.  (And don’t get me started on the effect that all that paper has on our local landfills. According to the Recycler’s Handbook, 1990, HALF of all paper consumed in the Unites States was for wrapping paper products.  That’s about 4 million tons.)

I try to keep a balance with the gift wrapping.  I’ll have several gifts that are beautifully wrapped, with elegant paper and lots of ribbons and bows.  I’ll also mix in gifts wrapped nicely, but simply and with less expensive paper and perhaps just a ribbon or one bow.

I admit that cost is not the only factor; some of that has to do with how tired I am of wrapping presents.  You can usually tell the presents I wrapped first from the ones I wrapped last.  First ones: lots of fancy paper, sharp folded edges, curly ribbons, and bows.  Last one:  lucky to have the paper on straight and even luckier to have a bow.

Wrapping paper is on sale this week at Target for $2.50 for a 90 sq ft roll.  Even so, I’ll wait until after Christmas when it is on sale for less than half that price.  I’ll store it in the attic to use for wrapping presents next year.

I’ll also scout through the Christmas clearance paper to see if any of the rolls will be suitable for birthday and other occasion gifts.  Plain colors, like gold or red, make good all-occasion wrapping paper.  Paper with designs is usually a little harder to use throughout the year, unless, of course, you can convince the kids that snowmen in Santa hats is a really cool way to decorate birthday presents in August.

You may even want to re-use wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows.  In their book, Living on a Shoestring, the Tightwad Twins recommend ironing used wrapping paper to make it like new.  Spray on a little starch if needed to make the paper crisp again.  That is a nice idea, especially if the wrapping paper is especially beautiful.  However, I like the idea only if it is used as a natural afterthought and does not take control of the unwrapping process.  It seems rather stressful and Scrooge-like to insist that a gift recipient tediously and carefully avoid ripping the wrapping paper as they are opening an exciting gift.

Gifts bags are especially easy to reuse.  Even the tissue paper inside the bags is usually reusable.  Just be sure to take off the gift tag.  You don’t want to give a gift to sweet Aunt Mabel that has a gift tag that says “Merry Christmas to my brother”.

To save money on wrapping large gifts, I have a favorite tip:  the Sunday comics.  The comics are colorful, fun, and best of all: free. This year I wrapped one of Chris’ gifts in the comics:








I won’t tell you what the gift is, because it’s a surprise. I’m really looking forward to watching him open it.

You can also use other materials from home to wrap presents.  Large scraps of fabric, pretty cloth shopping bags, inside-out brown paper bags, old maps, and even new towels can be used to wrap a gift.

With a little imagination and creativity, you can save a lot of money on wrapping paper this year.  Have fun while doing it and you’ve got the Fat Dollar way!

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays





Save Money on Breakfast Cereal by Recrisping Stale Cereal

While rearranging a kitchen shelf, I discovered two boxes of half-empty, slightly stale cereal.  The cereal was purchased just a few weeks earlier and I did not want to waste the cereal.

Cereal on a cookie sheet


I was getting ready to cook a dish in the oven, so the oven was already preheated. I decided to recrisp the cereal with the oven method.


I spread the cereal in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and baked it in the oven at 425 degrees for five minutes.  It turned out crispy, crunchy, and fresh-tasting. It was a quick and fun way to save money on cereal.

See the entire article with detailed steps and photos:  Crispy and Crunchy Again -How to Make Stale Cereal Crisp

I did have other options for using stale cereal:

– They could have been used to bake cookies.  Here is a link to a good Cereal Cookie recipe:

Cookie Madness also has several good cereal cookie recipes:

– The cereal can be crushed into crumbs and used as a topping for other baked desserts, such as bread pudding.

– After re-crisping, crush the cereal and use as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.

– Depending on the cereal, use a food processor to finely grind the cereal and use it as a substitute for some of the sugar and flour in one of your baked goods recipes.  Read the cereal box label to see if your cereal contains mostly rice, oats, or wheat.

– After re-crisping, mix the cereal with bits of fruit, nuts, and other small treats, such as crackers or other cereals for your own custom made trail mix.

– A half-cup to a cup of colorful cereal can be crushed and stirred into yellow or white cake batter before baking to make rainbow bits in the cake.

– Unsweetened cereals can be crushed and used as a substitute for bread crumbs in a recipe, such as meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffing.

– Colorful, shaped cereal such as Fruit Loops, can be used to make crafts, birthday decorations,  or Christmas decorations.  Remember that crafts made with food items will not store well (think ants and bugs!), so they should be tossed as soon as the event is over.

– Put the cereal in your compost pile

– Some cereals can be fed to the birds outside, but don’t feed the birds highly sugared, flavored,  or salted cereals.  This probably eliminates most ready-to-eat cereals.


Have a great breakfast!  Breakfast tastes better when you’ve started the day saving a dollar or two. That’s The Fat Dollar way!